LIMA — Area school officials liked what they heard from Gov. John Kasich Thursday, but say they they still need to see the numbers before declaring a final verdict.
“It seems like a good principle on the surface, but it is hard for each district to know too much until the spread sheets are run,” Bluffton schools Superintendent Greg Denecker said.
Area superintendents were among others to travel to Columbus Thursday to get a look at Kasich’s long-anticipated school funding plan, which he is calling “Achievement Everywhere.”
Good news came for all districts when Kasich said none would see reduced funding next year. Elida schools Superintendent Don Diglia said it is certainly positive and that the plan seems to be much better than anticipated. Yet, there are still concerns, he said.
“He said no one is losing any money, but that for us doesn’t do anything for the $2.3 million we have lost over the last five years,” Diglia said. “We are not making up any ground, just not losing any ground.”
Elida voters will see an operating levy on the May ballot. Diglia said it is important for his district to get to the “bottom line” of how the state budget will impact the district and get that to voters.
Officials hear that they may get numbers for their district as early as late next week. Kasich rolls out his full $50 billion-plus, two-year budget Monday. More talk will come when he delivers his State of the State address Feb. 19 in Lima.
Kasich’s plan is supposed to help schools that have a high percentage of low-income families and low property values. That could be good news for a district like Lima.
“At a first glance it appears hopeful for those of us who are not fiscally as fortunate as others,” Superintendent Jill Ackerman said. “High poverty districts should be brought up more to be more equitable with other districts, but we need to be cautious until we see the details.”
Proposed funding changes would bring all schools up to the tax base level of a district with $250,000 in property value per student. Bluffton’s evaluation is currently at $124,000 per pupil, putting the district about in the middle of the state’s 613 public school districts. Denecker isn’t sure the new model will affect his district.
“Districts at the very low evaluations per pupil will obviously see a significant increase, but districts like us in the middle and the ones above us I am not sure we are going to see a whole lot of difference,” he said.
Lima could also benefit from additional money to help teach and support students with disabilities. Those students make up about 30 percent of the district’s enrollment. Ackerman is also encouraged by talk of funding for gifted students.
The plan provides aid to help schools reach the state’s new third-grade reading guarantee. Ackerman said the guarantee could discourage people from teaching third-grade, but that additional funding could help with professional development.
Kasich continues his commitment to school choice, proposing making vouchers available to any low-income child entering kindergarten regardless of where he or she lives. That would expand to first-grade the next year. The current voucher program awards scholarships to private schools only to students attending schools deemed to be low performing.
House Speaker Pro Tem Rep. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, has long advocated for an income-based voucher system.
“The focus I have is more choices make people work harder, work better. The prices go down,” Huffman said. “You can have the best schools anywhere, but for a particular kid or particular family it may be a bad situation.”
Ackerman questions whether the private schools getting the students and state money will be held to the same accountability standards as public schools. Diglia also has concerns.
“If a school is low performing and in your home district, and people don’t have available a quality education, then maybe it should be an option for parents,” he said. “But if they have an option to attend a well-performing school, then I don’t see why you should siphon off state dollars to go to a private school.”
Kasich is also making $300 million available to schools implementing innovative practices. The “Straight A” Fund would be a one-time grant that schools can apply for. Some compare it to the Federal Race to the Top.
Local officials say they hope to take advantage of the grants. Diglia said that in the past such program were often only available to larger school districts. He is hopeful this will be different.
“It sounds like this is going to be an attempt to level the playing field across the board,” he said.